Friday, 29 August 2008

Gold, GOLD, always believe in your soul....

Okay, this isn't strictly theatre news but news of a performer on a different stage - a sporting one! If, like me, you were sucked into the breath-taking spectacle of human endeavour that was the Beijing Olympics, you cannot fail to be blown away by the achievements of the UK Cycling team.

Luckily for us, one of those Gold Medal winning cyclists, was Bolton boy Jason Kenny. Apparently, he is Bolton's first ever Gold medalist. There will be a civic welcome on Victoria Square for the marvellous Mr Kenny tomorrow (Saturday 30 Aug).

The celebrations will start at 11.30 and Jason will display his medals on the steps of Bolton Town Hall, where members of the public will have the chance to congratulate him on his success on Victoria Square. We will also have with us former Bolton Olympians, including Amir Khan who personally wanted to come down and congratulate Jason, the Chairman of Bolton Wanderers and other special guests.

Not only that, but Saturday sees the second day of the marvellous Food and Drink Festival. So loads to see, do and eat in Bolton this weekend. You can read about the Octagon Food Festival event here.

I Design for Life!

Apologies for the rather bad corruption of the Manic Street Preachers lyrics for the title. Forgive me, it's Friday!

This post is about a brand new designer, Tom Scutt (he designs for his livelihood - does the post title make sense now!?) Not only is he brand spanking new, he is also award-winning! Tom was not only a prize winner at the 2007 Linbury Biennial for his work at Headlong Theatre, he also picked up the Jocelyn Herbert award. So pretty talented, I'd say! And nice. So nice that he has agreed to answer a few questions and has also sent some of his sketches for the costume for Merchant of Venice. A sneak preview if you will.

Which project, that you have undertaken, are you most proud of?

I guess ‘proud’ is the wrong word, but every project gives a sense of fulfilment in at least one area – hopefully! I’ve just finished Metropolis with 60 children for Theatre Royal Bath which was an immense physical challenge, but then a tiny show for two in a London pub theatre offers up great mental challenges which are equally fulfilling when solved.

I think the achievement I’m most proud of is not actually a realised show: Winning one of four awards for the Linbury Biennial Prize for Stage Design last year, and its sister award The Jocelyn Herbert Prize, was extraordinary. It’s a beacon I’ve always looked toward with excitement and fear! Winning it has opened up so many doors and changed so much for me that I don’t really know what I’d be doing right now without it!

If you could produce designs for any production, what would that production be?
The eternal question! Luckily – it’s rare that a designer gets to choose what’s put on stage so the weight of that question is placed squarely on the shoulders of the producer and director! If I had to choose, I guess I’d have to say ‘Macbeth’. Greg Doran’s RSC production in 1999 with Anthony Sher and Harriet Walter was truly inspiring and the reason why I decided to go into Theatre Design. That, and in 1998 at the Worcester Swan a certain Mark Babych directed a very gawky 14 year old Tom Scutt as Fleance in the same play. I’ve come back to haunt him like Banquo’s ghost! It’s a play that’s been with me all my life and for that more than anything I’d love to create the world for it.

Can you describe a bit about the process you went through to design the set and costumes for The Merchant of Venice?
Mark and myself both came with our own initial concerns. His was how we move fluidly from Venice to Belmont, mine was about the colour and the texture of these worlds. We discovered a surface that allows for the both the watery, harsh, steely world of Venice and the vain, opulent, glowing palace of Belmont. This discovery started to dictate the rest of the process. Sliding doors allowed the set to be permeated or sealed off completely in what started to look increasingly like one of Portia’s caskets – a set than can at once appear alluring and deadly. We also found that it began to resemble what has become known as ‘the corporate bombsite’. A kind of decimated skyscraper that has sinister overtones of Ground Zero - a warning in itself of what might happen if money is allowed to come higher than God.

And so the process went on, one problem answering the next, moving progressively forward towards a complete world – one in which all faiths find themselves up against the biggest religion of all: money. It’s the one thing all characters have in common and both Mark and I felt that the idea of wearing one’s wealth on one’s sleeve was exactly right for the costuming of a masculine Venice driven by highly-pressured money-makers and a feminine Belmont inhabited in particular by one super-rich, appearance obsessed Portia. Some design decisions like this were made after weeks of wrangling, others, such as “what if the Prince of Arragon were an ageing Flamenco dancer??” were just great one liners over a cup of coffee!

What were the biggest challenges of designing for Merchant and what was most enjoyable about working on this production?
I think the biggest challenge and the most enjoyable element are one and the same for me. The issue of race within the play is such a difficult one. It is essential when approaching the design – the direction, and the performance for that matter – that one treads very carefully. Coming from a generation that is, one the whole, much more tolerant of race, sexuality and class, it can often be hard to enter into the mind of an individual who has the ability to spit at a stranger in the street, simply because they are a Jew. Both myself, Mark and David Fielder (Shylock) were keen to raise questions, not answer them, but also to treat Shylock first and foremost as a man. Not a religion. We were keen that he look very much like everybody else in the play.

I was also particularly interested in how, when backed into a corner, religion can all too often be used as a sword to defend oneself from harm rather than an arm to reach out – as ongoing world events never fail to demonstrate. If the first part of the play is about the people that are Shylock and Antonio, the court scene distils them simply to the religious symbols they stand for. This issue is not one to be taken lightly, nor one to be solved here with this production but it has given us all big challenges and immense pleasure in discovering more and more about as we continue through the process.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Well Swung

You may remember me talking about the auditions for our community musical play, Well Swung, that is being produced by activ8. Well they have been rehearsing like mad over the last week or so and from what I can hear coming from the bar, it is sounding pretty darn good.

The production involves a small team of professional actors and musicians supported by a youth cast and orchestra of 25. It’s the first time activ8 have attempted a show with a large orchestra and the musical arrangements are quite stunning.

The play tells the story of a local swing band struggling to survive and creating a cunning plan to find their audience. Think Brassed off with a bit of a swing and a love story thrown in for good measure!

The performances take place the same weekend as the Bolton Food Festival. There is a preview performance on Friday 29 August (7.30pm) and further performances at 2.30pm and 7.30pm on Saturday 30 August. Tickets are available from £4.

So why not make an afternoon of it? Join in the Food Festival fun on Friday or Saturday afternoon and then enjoy an evening of Swing music at the Octagon in the evening....

Thursday, 21 August 2008

The Merchant of Venice - cast announcement

Mark has pulled together a great cast for The Merchant of Venice. Not only are they great in talent but also fairly great in number - there's eleven of them. Not as many as The Crucible though who struggled to all fit on the stage when they took the curtain call (not that we have a curtain but you know what I mean!).

Not only are there faces from the recent past (a fair few you might recognise from our Anniversary Season) but also some that are new to the Octagon stage. Wyllie Longmore (Meet the Mukherjees / I Just Stopped By To See the Man) returns in the role of Antonio. David Fielder joins us as Shylock - can't wait to see these two trading verbal blows on stage! We welcome Emily Pithon as Portia and say hello once again to Paul Barnhill who plays Bassanio (Anna Karenina).

Other faces making a welcome return are Paul Simpson (And Did Those Feet / Road / Spring and Port Wine), Simeon Truby (Oh What a Lovely War / A Christmas Carol), Catherine Kinsella (The Crucible) and Dan Poyser (Blue Orange). Jenny Platt, Neil Madden and David Hobbs complete the cast.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

It's Tasty Up North

Although things are relatively quiet here at the theatre at the moment, we will soon be starting preparations for next season. The production staff will be back after their well deserved summer holidays, cast will arrive to start rehearsing once again and our exciting special events programme will commence.

Talking of special events, we'd like to tell you about a new event that will be taking place here at the Octagon as part of Bolton's Food and Drink Festival. The Food Festival takes place over the last weekend in August and there are lots of events taking place around the town centre, including a paella tasting (I won't be bringing my sandwiches in on that day!), a cookery theatre featuring demos from Simon Rimmer (owner of the fantastic Green's restaurant) and Mike Harrison plus head chefs from some of Bolton's fine range of eateries (I recommend the Spice Valley chefs if there is a tasting), an Ale Trail and singing waiters! To top it off there will also be a whole host of special offers and tastings, so bring your appetite. You can read more about the Food Festival here.
The Octagon are delighted to be hosting an event here in our Hospitality Suite. Jim Hollyman will be coming in to talk about Fair trade and how important it is for future sustainability. His talk will be followed by a cookery demonstration by local chef Mike Harrison, using Fair trade ingredients. So not only informative and inspiring it will be mouthwatering too! And if that isn't enough to support the event there will be a Spotlight Cafe Fair trade themed SPECIAL OFFER for all attenders.
Event details
Date: Friday 29 and Saturday 30 August
Time: 2.30pm
Running time: approx 1 hour
Where: The Hospitality Suite at The Octagon Theatre
Tickets: FREE - places are limited so must be booked via our Ticket Office on 01204 520661